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Mike Dubue crafts a new soundtrack for Canada's first epic film
Published on: October 31, 2014Last Updated: October 31, 2014 2:28 PM EDT
HILOTRONS band leader Mike Dubue Oct 14 spoke about their latest project to celebrate the 100th anniversary of WW I. They will be playing live to screenings of the 1928 Canadian film classic, Carry On Sergeant. (Pat McGrath / Ottawa Citizen)
Pat McGrath / Ottawa Citizen
Carry On, Sergeant!
Presented by the Lost Dominion Screening Collective
With live musical accompaniment by the Hilotrons
7 p.m. Nov. 11, ByTowne Cinema, 325 Rideau St.
Tickets: $15 general, $10 members, available at the door.
Ottawa musician and classic-film buff Mike Dubue is not usually a fan of the work of Quentin Tarantino but one aspect of one movie grabbed his attention.
“In the remake of Inglourious Basterds, I really felt the way he used Ennio Morricone’s music,” says the bearded artist over a morning beer in Mechanicsville, referring to one of his biggest musical heroes.
The legendary Italian soundtrack composer was reportedly not available to score Tarantino’s 2009 Second World War drama so the filmmakers incorporated some of his earlier compositions into the soundtrack.
“It was existing music that I knew very well from other films, but the way that he put it in the film was very telling. It was like another character in the movie. It’s amazing how it could work so well with another picture, not just what it was originally intended for. That idea really struck gold for me,” says the multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.
It inspired him to take a similar approach with his latest project, part of an ongoing effort to combine two passions: silent film and live music. Dubue has been composing original scores for silent films since 2009, but this time decided to rearrange Morricone’s music into a new soundtrack for the 1928 Canadian film, Carry On, Sergeant!
Why Morricone? Dubue describes himself as a huge fan of the classic era of film composing, listing greats like Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Bernard Herrmann and Leonard Bernstein. He wanted to emulate the romance of the era, but also pay tribute to Morricone’s experimental side.
“He’s a very interesting man in that he came from a solid pop arranging background in Italy, and a classical music background, but then gravitated and incorporated the avant garde,” explains Dubue, noting that Morricone was part of a band, Il Gruppo, in the 1960s and ’70s that was dedicated to improvisation and new-music techniques.
Now 85, Morricone is considered one of the most prolific and influential film composers, with a repertoire that includes more than 500 movies and television shows. Dubue owns about 90 of the classic Morricone soundtracks on vinyl.
“I collect a lot of his music,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve heard all 500-plus but I’ve heard a lot. I’ll be studying Ennio Morricone till I’m dead. It’s a huge body of work.”
To create the soundtrack, Dubue turned to his vinyl collection, and spent about a month rearranging tunes and creating a cue sheet to come up with a score to bring to his bandmates in Hilotrons. Judging by the trailer, the reworked music is remarkably effective alongside the dramatic images.
The band is taking it on tour, too, stopping at some of Canada’s oldest heritage theatres, including the ByTowne Cinema on Remembrance Day. They will provide the live musical accompaniment during screenings of the film.
Carry On, Sergeant! is one of the country’s earliest feature films, not to be confused with the low-budget 1958 British farce. A romantic drama intended to honour Canada’s sacrifice in the First World War, it was written, directed and produced by British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, who had never worked on a movie before and ran the budget to a whopping $500,000, financed by the Canadian government and business leaders. Shot in Trenton, it’s considered Canada’s first epic film. When it was pulled from distribution in less than a year, it became the country’s first big flop.
Forgotten for decades, the 90-minute drama was restored in 1990 by Library and Archives Canada. Dubue, who enjoys shedding light on Canada’s all-but-forgotten silent-film era, was taken by the film’s ambitious technical scope and the humour in its narrative, as well as the anti-war message.
“The timing of doing this project is sort of obvious, in the sense that it is the beginning of the centennial anniversary of the First World War,” he points out. “But this is an interesting film because it has a larger social message. It has a very direct anti-war sentiment to it, but it also has a very pro-soldier understanding of combat as well, which is very respectful.
“I’m extremely anti-war, and the more that I dig into the history of the First World War, I don’t think that we should have gone to war. And I don’t really understand what’s going on right now with us wanting to go to war. It’s something I’d like to discuss. It wasn’t planned that way, but maybe the film will help us get to that conversation.”
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